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Guiltless pleasures

Kura highlights the comforting side of Japanese food



I've always loved the ceremonial aspects of Japanese cuisine, from the communal dining to the hand-crafted food served piece by beautiful piece. I've long appreciated the touches of formality, and also how healthy the dishes tend to be. But only recently, when my Japanese-born mother-in-law rescued me from morning sickness with a bowl of soup with ginger and bok choy, did I realize Japanese food can be comfort food.

Yet a similar delicate and feminine touch is evident at three-year-old Kura Japanese Restaurant. Nestled alongside a video store off Research Parkway and Union Boulevard, Kura is owned by Sung Brinck, a memorable former server at the Jun Japanese Restaurant on Dublin Boulevard.

The modern, burnt-orange walls mix well with the bright windows, high ceilings and lovely ceramic tile accents. The tables get dressed up in linens in the evening, as do the attentive and adept servers, who on weekends wear kimonos.

The menu goes heavy on the usual sushi, tempura and teriyaki dishes, like bento box meals. The glazed salmon teriyaki ($9.25, or $10.25 with four California roll pieces), served with tempura vegetables, pickled cucumbers and carrots, side salad and rice, came moist, delicious and abundant. We found another winner in the salmon skin roll ($6), beautiful and bright in color with orange masago (roe) and green peppery radish sprouts, though I prefer my skin a touch more crispy.

The sushi is also given its due. Sam Yun, an 11-year sushi chef, skillfully cut large pieces of fresh salmon and tuna (both $4.50 for two pieces), piggybacking them on rounds of perfectly molded rice. And the roll menu features old favorites like the Yummy Roll ($11.95), sweet tempura shrimp and cucumber encased in salmon and avocado, which lived up to its name.

The Research Roll ($12.95) arrived huge, stuffed with soft-shell crab, wrapped with eel, yellowtail, hamachi and, perhaps for giggles, a large dollop of crab. Given my supreme love of crab, this delighted.

Rolls and routine dishes aside, Kura also featured some items I hadn't before seen. The asparagus-wrapped beef ($8.95) had bright green spears sticking out of roulades that had been coated in a light batter and fried. While the beef remained wonderfully tender, the asparagus still had a little bite to it, without a hint of oiliness.

And actually, the beginning and end of a Kura visit both offer numerous chances to be surprised. In the crab balls ($6.50), California roll crabmeat is formedinto spheres covered in panko crumbs, then flash-fried. (The sweet and creamy wasabi mayo dipping sauce had us at "Hello.") We ordered the small smelt fish ($6.95) thinking it would arrive whole. But actually, we received five delicate filets, covered with a tempura coating. They resembled butterflied shrimp, but tasted more like a lighter version of beer-battered fish.

Though I was bordering on uncomfortable, I was tickled to be treated to moshi, little powdered-sugar-sprinkled domes of frozen rice custard wrapped in a spongy rice cocoon. Japanese cuisine isn't normally noted for dessert items, but this was a sweet end to a colorful and graceful dining experience.

I left Kura feeling full and happy. And, yes, even a little comforted.

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